Woof woof: Thailand’s virus sniffer dogs to detect COVID19 in communities

Bravo, a Labrador Retriever, sits in front of a sample of human sweat after detecting the COVID-19 coronavirus at a mobile canine unit in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, June 17, 2021. Thailand has deployed a canine virus detection squad to help provide a fast and effective way of identifying people with COVID-19 as the country faces a surge in cases, with clusters found in several crowded slum communities and large markets. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Bangkok (AP) – Thailand’s dog virus-detecting squad are ready for their close up.

Posing at a photo-opportunity organised by the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, they are demonstrating how they are ready to patrol the streets, hoping to locate people with COVID-19.

The canine team will soon be sent to communities suspected of being new COVID-19 hotspots to screen people with possible infections.

The dogs will work inside a mobile unit, while the collecting team can comb through the community collecting samples.

Tiger, a Labrador Retriever, sits in front of a sample of human sweat after detecting the COVID-19 coronavirus at a mobile canine unit in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, June 17, 2021. Thailand has deployed a canine virus detection squad to help provide a fast and effective way of identifying people with COVID-19 as the country faces a surge in cases, with clusters found in several crowded slum communities and large markets. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Nasa, Tiger, Angel and Apollo are among the six Labrador retrievers that have been trained by researchers at the Faculty of Veterinary Science.

Their job is to sniff out a unique odour that people with COVID-19 produce in their sweat.

After six months of intense training, researchers say the success rate is nearly 95%.

Jittaphap Chuanwong, a dog trainer, says while the dogs performed well right at the beginning of the training, they were worried that they won’t detect new variants of the virus.

“There are changes in the virus. There are variants and the smells are different. We were worried that the dogs wouldn’t be identify them but we were all determined to find out the answer, with people from Chulalongkorn University and, (the sponsor), Chevron. And it turned out that the dogs could detect  them,” explains Jittaphap.

Sweat samples collected from people are placed in metal containers.

The dogs are trained to walk past the samples and sniff them.

If it is positive, it will sit in front of it.

This testing is done inside an air-conditioned truck converted into a mobile unit.

“The dogs need to be able to concentrate while they are working. So we need a working space for them to work where they can sniff properly. If we don’t have the mobile unit, we would have to find and create a space for them.” says researcher Chutamas Benjanirut.

Researcher prepare samples of human sweat for Bobby, a Labrador Retriever, to detect the COVID-19 coronavirus at a mobile canine unit in Bangkok, Thailand Thursday, June 17, 2021. Thailand has deployed a canine virus detection squad to help provide a fast and effective way of identifying people with COVID-19 as the country faces a surge in cases, with clusters found in several crowded slum communities and large markets. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

So far, the COVID-19 sniffing squad has tested around 2,000 samples from college staff, students, and the public.

Thailand is in the midst of a surge in coronavirus cases that started in April and has accounted for more than 80% of the country’s 204,595 total confirmed cases and 90% of its 1,525 deaths.

The surge has caused special concern because Thailand is late in securing and deploying vaccine supplies. On 17 June 2021, health authorities reported 3,129 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, brining a total number of cases to 207,724 since the pandemic started.

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